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History of the USS Sea Cat SS-399

1944 - 1968

In the old days submarines were named after fish and the USS Sea Cat was named after a catfish.

Sea Catfish

Another fish whose taxonomical background is somewhat difficult to fathom; our Shark Catfish is often referred to as Arius jordani". The family Ariidae is distinct in the catfish world as being the only family to have a truly global distribution. They can be found on all five continents from marine environments (hence the family's rather general tag of "Sea cats") to freshwater lakes.





The USS Sea Cat had a long and distinguish career in the service to her country. Her contributions are immeasurable. She help win the war in the Pacific with three battle stars. There was another war that she didn't live to see our country win and that was the "Cold War". The Sea Cat can be proud of her immense contributions in helping win this global undeclared war with the Soviet Union.  From her North Atlantic operations and Mediterranean deployments to her role in the Cuban Missile Crisis and providing services to train her surface and air counterparts in anti-submarine warfare, she conducted herself with skill, knowledge, proficiency and always with a "Can Do" spirit. If a Cold War campaign medal  is ever authorized, the Sea Cat will instantly qualify. She was a great boat and it was a privilege and honor to serve on board and be part of her history..

The following is a chronological history of the Sea Cat movements during her service to her country. After the chronological history there  is a detailed account of her history authored by CDR Robert L. Sminkey.

 If you know the month and year of any of her deployments or port-of-call, please email them to us and we will update. If you see any errors we made, please let us know.    

USS Sea Cat SS-399 War Patrol Reports (Declassified)
December 28, 1944 - September 14, 1945

Click Here:
Sea Cat War Patrol One 
Sea Cat War Patrol Two
Sea Cat War Patrol Three
Sea Cat War Patrol Four

The report is in PDF format and the files are large.


1943 October Keel laid Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
1944 February Christened by Mrs. E. Cochrane (wife of head of BUSHIPS).
  May Commissioning ceremonies held. Commander Rob Roby McGregor her first Captain.
  August Departed Submarine Base New London for Hawaii.
  October Departed Pearl Harbor for South China Sea - her first War Patrol. Operated in wolf pack with USS Pampanito, USS Pipefish and USS Sea Raven.
  December Arrived in Guam for UPKEEP.
1945 February Departed Guam for East China Sea - her second War Patrol - LCDR R. H Bowers, Commanding Officer. Operated in wolf pack with USS Segundo and USS Razorback.
  March Arrived in Midway for UPKEEP.
  April Departed Midway for the Yellow Sea - her third War Patrol.
  June Arrived in Pearl Harbor for UPKEEP.
  August Departed Pearl Harbor for the Kurils (chain of islands north of Japan) - to be her fourth War Patrol. The war ended and was ordered to Tokyo Bay  for surrender ceremonies.
  September Departed Tokyo Bay and arrived Guam.
    Departed Guam.
  October Arrived San Diego, CA - homeport.
  November LCDR Ellis B. Orr assumes command.
1946 April Departed San Diego and arrived Mare Island Shipyard for overhaul.
  July Departed Mare Island Shipyard and arrived San Diego.
  August Departed on WESTPAC cruise. Visited Hawaiian Islands, Canton Islands, Swains, Samoa, Atafu Islands, Tsintao and Shanghi, China.
  November LCDR Donald G. Baer assumes command.
1947 January USS Sea Cat transferred to the Atlantic fleet - Submarine Base, Balboa, Panama Canal Zone.
    Arrived SUB BASE, Balboa, PC - homeport.
  February CDR Maurice Rindskopf assumes command.
  December Arrived in Portsmouth, NH for overhaul.
1948 May Departed Portsmouth for Panama via New London.
1949 June Arrived at the Submarine Base, Key West, FL - USS Sea Cat's new homeport.
    LCDR Charles F. Leigh assumes command.
  September USS Sea Cat designation changed from "SS" to "AGSS" for experimental reasons.
  November Departed Key West and arrived Philadelphia Naval Shipyard for overhaul.
1950 March Departed Philadelphia for Key West via New London, CT
1951 August LCDR John E. Balson assumes command.
  December USS Sea Cat designation changed back to "SS".
1952 January Departed Key West for Philadelphia Naval Shipyard for overhaul and conversion from fleet-type submarine to fleet-snorkel submarine.
  June Departed Philadelphia NSY for Key West.
1953 June LCDR Sidney B. Stephens, Jr assumes command.
1955 September LCDR E.E. Smith assumes command.
1957 September LCDR James J. Kelly assumes command.
1958 June Departed for North Atlantic exercises - stop over Scotland. Two days out from U.S. the pump room started flooding - discovered at one-inch hole in the hull beneath an air compressor. It was secured with a wooden peg and proceed to Charleston Naval Shipyard for repairs.
1959   LCDR Robert A. Bergs assumes command.
1961 February Departed Key West for Mediterranean deployment. Countries visited - Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Lebanon, Greece Cyprus, Greek Islands, Canary Islands and Malta.
  June Arrived Key West - 100 percent qualified.
  December LCDR Robert W. Crouter assumes command.
1962 October Cuban Missile Crisis - USS Sea Cat was in Miami enjoying liberty. We received orders to rendezvous with USS Bushnell and the rest of our sister subs in squadron 12. Then we headed for Charleston, SC. We loaded stores and torpedoes and received our orders to rendezvous in Florida and pick up our cargo - commandoes. We were heading toward Havana when the crisis ended.
1963 January Overhaul Charleston Naval Shipyard.
  June Refresher training New London, CT. Four day visit in Salam, MA - VIP cruise - where we broadcast on the local radio station both on the surface and submerged at periscope depth from the USS Sea Cat.
  July Assisted in rescuing Cuban refugees.
1964 January LCDR Robert G. Smith assumes command.
1966 March LCDR Gordon W. Engquist assumes command.
  June LCDR George Ellis assumes command.
  July Departed Key West for Mediterranean deployment.
  October Arrived Key West, FL.
1967 May LCDR James A. Wilson assumes command.
1968 June USS Sea Cat designation changed from "SS" to "AGSS".
  December Decommissioned by Captain Charles K. Schmidt, Commander Submarine Squadron 12, Key West, FL.
1973 May USS Sea Cat was sold to the Southern Scrap Material Company, New Orleans, LA for $98,889.





Researched by: Robert Loys Sminkey

Commander, United States Navy, Retired

The formal legal steps leading to the acquisition of United States naval vessels are confusing to many people but are very important to an understanding of the United States Navy's submarine programs. Generally speaking, the Navy cannot acquire a ship until Congress has both authorized the size of the fleet and appropriated funds for the procurement of new vessels. This requires two separate acts of Congress, as a result of which ships have frequently been authorized several years before funds were actually appropriated for their construction, and some authorized ships have never been built at all. Authorization and procurement procedures are usually quite formal in peacetime but more expedient methods are usually followed during wars or national emergencies. In the past, Congress was often very specific in defining the characteristics of particular ships, their cost, and sometimes even their names and where they were to be built.

USS Sea Cat (SS-399), the name being a shortened form of sea catfish, a marine fish of little food value found off the southeastern coast of the United States, was authorized to be built by the United States Congressional Act of 9 July 1942 ... which stated in part:

"...The authorized composition of the United States Navy in under-age vessels, as established by the Act of March 27, amended by the Acts of May 17, 1938...June 14, 1940...July 19, 1940...December 23, 1941...and May 13, 1942 ... is hereby further increased by one million nine hundred thousand tons of combatant ships,"...Provided, that the foregoing increases in tonnages for each of the three classes of aircraft carriers, cruisers, and destroyers and destroyer escort vessels may be varied downward in the amount of

30 per centum of the total increased tonnage authorized herein, and if so varied downward, the tonnage so decreased may be used to increase the tonnage of any other class of vessel authorized above, or to increase the tonnage of submarines heretofore authorized, so long as the sum of the total increases in tonnages of these classes, including submarines as authorized herein, is not exceeded:...."

USS Sea Cat (SS-399) was built under the 1943-1944 Construction Program.

USS Sea Cat (SS-399) was laid down on the 1A Shipbuilding Way at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in Kittery, Maine, on 30 October 1943. The submarine was christened by Mrs. Edward L. Cochrane and launched on 21 February 1944.

Commissioning took place on 16 May 1944 with Commander Robert R. McGregor in command.

USS Sea Cat (SS-399) was a unit of the Balao Class. The design development of this class was accomplished by the Portsmouth Navy Yard...and she was built by the Portsmouth Navy Yard. Thus, USS Sea Cat is a "Portsmouth Boat."

One of the best-kept secrets of World War II was the increase in the operating depth of our submarines, from 300 feet in the Gato Class to 400 feet in the Balao Class. This was accomplished by shifting from mild steel to high-tensile steel and increasing the thickness of the pressure-hull plating, using the weight saved in previous classes by meticulous attention to design details in every area. Naturally, the Balao Class boats became known as the "thick skins"...while the Gato Class and earlier classes were dubbed "thin skins." In outward appearance and internal layout, the heavy-hull boats were practically identical to the earlier type, and many people--including the Japanese--were unaware that there had been any change. Most of the other new features in the Balao design had already been incorporated in the later Gato Class boats as alterations or contract changes, so the Bureau of Ships skipped the usual step of preparing a preliminary design and simply issued a so-called Circular of Requirements setting forth the changes and new test specifications.

Orders were placed for 256 units of this class, but only 119 were completed to the original design, the rest being either cancelled or reordered later in the war. World War II losses totaled nine, the low toll being due to the completion of many units too late in the war to encounter much opposition from the battered Japanese antisubmarine forces. Most of the Balao Class underwent conversion to new configurations after World War II, and made up the bulk of the Navy's active submarine force until nuclear-powered attack boats replaced most of them during the 1960s.

When commissioned, USS Sea Cat was 311 feet 6 inches in length overall and had a maximum beam of 27 feet 3 inches. Her standard displacement on the surface was 1,526 tons, her normal displacement on the surface was between 2,010 and 2,075 tons, and her submerged displacement was 2,391 tons. USS Sea Cat was designed to safely submerge to 400 feet...her operating depth. She has eight watertight compartments plus a conning tower. The pressure hull plating was 35 to 35.7 pound high tensile steel (approximately 7/8ths of an inch thick).

The designed compliment was for six officers and sixty enlisted men.

Armament consisted of 6 bow and 4 stern 21-inch torpedo tubes. The maximum torpedo load was twenty-four Mark 14 Mod. 3A torpedoes. In place of torpedoes, a maximum of 40 mines could be carried. One 5-inch/25-caliber dual-purpose deck gun was fitted. Antiaircraft guns consisted of one 40-mm, one 20-mm, and two .50-caliber machine guns.

Fuel capacity was 116,000 gallons (rated) of diesel oil, which fueled 4 main Fairbanks-Morse opposed piston 1,600 horsepower diesel engines, and one auxiliary Fairbanks-Morse opposed piston diesel engine... which turned generators...which made electricity...which turned four Elliot main propulsion motors of 2,740 shaft horsepower...which could drive the boat at 20.25 knots on the surface...and gave her a cruising range on the surface of 11,000 miles at ten knots (rated). The generators were also utilized to charge 2 Gould 126-cell main storage batteries...which could power the Elliot main propulsion motors...which could drive the boat at 8.75 knots when submerged. Her submerged endurance, at 2 knots, was two days. Her patrol endurance was rated at 75 days. USS Sea Cat had a mean draft of 15 feet 3 inches when on the surface in diving trim.

After shakedown and trials off the New England coast, the new submarine departed the United States Naval Submarine Base New London, Groton, Connecticut, on 28 August 1944, and proceeded, via the Panama Canal, to the Territory of Hawaii. Following training in Hawaiian waters, USS Sea Cat departed Pearl Harbor, on 28 October 1944, and headed, via Midway and Saipan, for the South China Sea, where the submarine operated in a wolf pack...which also included USS Pampanito (SS-383), USS Pipefish (SS-388), and USS Sea Raven (SS-196). During that war patrol, USS Sea Cat fired torpedoes at two Japanese merchantmen, which, together, displaced about 15,000 tons. Her commanding officer thought that they had both been sunk, but a postwar study of Japanese records did not confirm either sinking. After 61 days at sea, including 37 days in her patrol area, USS Sea Cat arrived at Guam for refit.

USS Sea Cat got underway, again, on 1 February 1945, for her second war patrol...which she conducted in the East China Sea in a wolf pack which included USS Segundo (SS-398) and USS Razorback (SS-394). During operations off the coast of Kyushu, she damaged a 300-ton cargo ship by gunfire and attacked a 2,000-ton ship with torpedoes. Although she reported sinking the latter, Japanese records failed to support that claim. USS Sea Cat completed her second war patrol upon arriving at Midway on 24 March 1945.

On 27 April 1945, USS Sea Cat transited to the Yellow Sea...where she and six other submarines preyed upon Japanese shipping. USS Sea Cat, herself, accounted for some 400 tons of enemy vessels by gunfire, and she picked up two survivors of the sunken enemy ships for questioning...before returning to Pearl Harbor on 25 June 1945.

During the refit period following the completion of her third war patrol, in July of 1945, USS Sea Cat was fitted with a second 5-inch/25-caliber deck gun and a rudimentary fire control system consisting of a Mark 6 computer, a Mark 6 stable element, and a Mark 2 Modification 1 gun order corrector; thus permitting central direction of gunfire. In addition to USS Sea Cat, USS Flying Fish (SS-229), USS Entemedor (SS-340), USS Sea Dog (SS-401), USS Sea Poacher (SS-406), USS Sea Robin (SS-407), and USS Sennet (SS-408) received this additional "gunboat" equipment...but the equipment was essentially a makeshift and was removed during the postwar period.

On the west coast of the United States, scientists from the University of California based at San Diego tackled the problem of submarines detecting and avoiding submerged minefields. During 1944, they tested several experimental "breadboard" sonar models capable of doing just that on USS S-34 (SS-139) and USS Redfin (SS-272). The most successful sonar set tested was a frequency modulated (FM) sonar that produced a characteristic ringing echo from mines and similar objects, and, accordingly, that sound was described as being "Hell's Bells."

The prototype of this equipment, the QLA, was sent on patrol with USS Spadefish (SS-411) and showed so much promise that additional sets were ordered on a rush basis from the laboratory and the Western Electric Company. They were installed on the boats of the so-called Hellcat wolf pack that penetrated Tsushima Strait in June of 1945 and rampaged through the Sea of Japan. Despite the success of this exploit, submariners were understandably unenthusiastic about picking their way through minefields. The QLA was good only at short ranges...about a quarter of a mile...and suffered from the usual limitations of sonars under less-than-perfect water conditions--and there was always the possibility of sideswiping one mine while maneuvering to avoid others. Because USS Sea Cat was a potential candidate for patrols in the Sea of Japan, Frequency Modulated QLA sonar equipment was installed in her prior to her fourth war patrol.

USS Sea Cat headed toward the Kurils on 6 August 1945 for her fourth and last Second World War patrol; but, upon arrival in her patrol area, learned that hostilities with Japan had ended. The submarine was ordered to proceed to the Japanese home islands and was in Tokyo Bay, Japan, during the formal surrender ceremony on 2 September 1945 when Japanese signed the instruments of surrender on board battleship USS Missouri (BB-63).

USS Sea Cat then transited to the Marianas and reached Guam on 7 September. Following a brief stay at Apra Harbor, Guam, the submarine crossed the Pacific Ocean to the west coast of the United States.

Following operations in the San Diego, California, area into the Spring of 1946, USS Sea Cat proceeded to San Francisco Bay and arrived at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard at Vallejo, California, on 15 April 1946, for overhaul.

Three months later, with all shipyard work completed, USS Sea Cat transited back to San Diego.

On 12 August 1946, USS Sea Cat deployed to the Western Pacific (WestPac) Ocean areas. During that cruise, the submarine visited the Hawaiian Islands; Canton Island; Swains, Samoa, and Atafu Islands; and Tsingtao and Shanghai, China.

Then, transferred to the United States Atlantic Fleet, USS Sea Cat transited to the Panama Canal Zone...and arrived at Balboa on 12 January 1947. The submarine conducted operations out of that homeport for two and one-half years. Then, her homeport was changed to Key West, Florida. The submarine then moved to the southernmost city in the continental United States...arriving there during June of 1949.

During the autumn of 1949, it was decided to have a number of experimental changes made to the submarine during her forthcoming overhaul; so, her designation was changed from "SS" (Submarine) to "AGSS" (Auxiliary Submarine) on 30 September 1949.

The classification of "AGSS" was established for those submarines destined to be converted to special noncombatant assignments, most of which were concerned with sonar research and testing.

On 7 November 1949, USS Sea Cat (AGSS-399) arrived at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and commenced overhaul.

During that overhaul, the submarine was fitted with the experimental XDG sonar ranging equipment being developed by the Naval Research Laboratory. The project scientist for that gear was Chester Buchanan who later achieved prominence as the developer of the underwater search equipment that located the wreckage of USS Thresher and other sunken objects. The forward torpedo-loading hatch was removed and the entire compartment filled with electronic equipment, leaving the torpedo tubes in place but incapable of being loaded except through the outer doors. Two large hydrophones were installed topside located as far apart as possible in order to provide the maximum base line for triangulation of the range to distant targets.

The repairs, modifications, and overhaul were completed on 11 March 1950, and USS Sea Cat returned, via the United States Naval Submarine Base New London, Groton, Connecticut, to the United States Naval Station at Key West, Florida.

USS Sea Cat operated from Key West until 9 January 1952. During that period, the submarine ran and completed a series of tests, during which it was found that the XDG sonar ranging equipment was less accurate than other forms of passive ranging which were then under development.

By 11 December 1951, the XDG sonar ranging equipment had been removed from USS Sea Cat, and, accordingly, her designation was changed back to "SS" from "AGSS."

During the period 9 January to 15 January 1952, USS Sea Cat (SS-399) transited from Key West to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

Upon arrival, the submarine commenced overhaul and conversion from a fleet-type submarine to a fleet-snorkel submarine.

When even the less extensive of the GUPPY (Greater Underwater Propulsion Power. The "Y" has no significance.) modifications proved too expensive for the Navy to update as many submarines as it needed, the fleet-snorkel program was instituted. It was an austere modernization program intended to take advantage of the capabilities of the snorkel as perfected on USS Irex (SS-482). The formal program consisted of eighteen boats, which received snorkels and streamlined sails, and many other submarines ultimately were given similar installations. This was not properly a conversion program, because the alterations were carried out in the course of regular shipyard overhauls without the appropriation of funds under the shipbuilding and conversion budget. Internally, the fleet snorkels were only slightly changed from the original Balao or Tench designs. Additional sonar equipment was installed either in the forward torpedo room or in space formerly occupied by the magazines when the deck guns and associated installations were removed. Some of these boats received plastic sails like the Guppies, but all were phased out of regular service by 1970.

Overhaul and conversion completed, USS Sea Cat (SS-399) departed the City of Brotherly Love on 26 June 1952 and returned to Key West.

The submarine operated from Key West for the remainder of her active career, spending much of her time in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and in waters off the southern coast of the United States.

During July of 1966, USS Sea Cat interrupted her customary routines by crossing the Atlantic Ocean for a four-month deployment with the United States Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea.

Upon returning to Key West on 30 October 1966, USS Sea Cat resumed her former routines and operated in Florida waters and in the Caribbean.

On 29 June 1968, USS Sea Cat (SS-399) was reclassified, for the second time, from "SS" to "AGSS."

On 2 December 1968, USS Sea Cat (AGSS-399) was decommissioned and struck from the Navy List.

From 1968 to 1972 the submarine was used as a test hulk and was subjected to a series of hull experiments.

On 18 May 1973, the submarine was sold for scrapping to the Southern Scrap Material Company of New Orleans, Louisiana, for $98,889.

USS Sea Cat (SS-399) earned three battle stars for her services during the Second World War.



Dolphin History - "Earning your Dolphins"


    Dolphins are earned through a process of "Qualifying." Individuals must learn the location of equipment, operation of systems, damage control procedures and have a general knowledge of operational characteristics of their boat. Dolphin wearers qualify initially on one boat and must re-qualify on boats to which they are subsequently assigned.

    Once Dolphins have been earned, they are awarded by the Commanding Officer in a special ceremony.

    The origin of the U.S. Navy's Submarine Service Insignia dates back to 1923. On 13 June of that year, Captain Ernest J. King, USN later to become Fleet Admiral and Chief of Naval Operations during World War II, and at that time Commander Submarine Division Three, suggested to the Secretary of the Navy, via the old Bureau of Navigation, that a distinguishing device for qualified submariners be adopted.

    A Philadelphia firm, which had done work for the Navy previously, was approached with the request that it undertake the design of a suitable badge. Two designs were submitted by the firm and these were combined into a single design. It was the design in use today. A bow view of a submarine, proceeding on the surface, with bow planes rigged for diving, flanked by Dolphins in horizontal positions with their heads resting on the upper edge of the bow planes.


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